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Natural disasters grist for Indonesia's politicians

Publication Date : 05-02-2014


As relief workers rushed to the scenes of recent floods and volcanic eruptions that hit various parts of Indonesia, so did eager politicians out to promote themselves.

One had T-shirts bearing his face and proclaiming him as president handed out while another had packets of biscuits distributed that had stickers with her photo and legislative poll number.

Political parties offered aid from tents bearing party logos, put up next to relief shelters.

With national elections due in two months, the recent natural disasters in Indonesia have provided a platform for politicians to ramp up their campaigning.

Limited campaigning for the legislative elections on April 9 was allowed from January 11, and candidates tactically descended on disaster zones to milk media attention. Others are eyeing the presidential poll in July.

North Sumatra's sleepy town of Kabanjahe in Karo regency was transformed by a chaotic war of banners about a fortnight ago when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited some of the 30,000 villagers displaced by Mount Sinabung's eruptions.

But most of them were not welcome banners for the president.

Instead, The Straits Times spotted several bearing the faces of some of the 11 contenders for the ruling Democratic Party's nominee for the presidential polls.

At least four banners of a smiling Irman Gusman, chairman of the Regional Representatives Council, were hung along a main road in Kabanjahe, touting him as the best pick for his party.

Even larger banners of a rival, Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan, were hung at prominent sites, including outside a relief shelter at Masjid Agung, one of three shelters that the President visited.

The candidates themselves also descended on the town that week. On the same day, Irman was spotted weaving baskets with old women in a shelter while Mr Gita took a selfie with a fruit seller before buying some fruits.

State-owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan, another contender, was seen chatting with villagers in another shelter.

"I have never seen so many politicians here before. I am entertained by their antics," said farmer Rapendi Tarigan, 35, who was sheltering in Masjid Agung.

In Jakarta, similar scenes played out across flood shelters.

Golkar Party chief and presidential aspirant Aburizal Bakrie, in a yellow raincoat, walked through flood-hit Kampung Pulo in East Jakarta and mingled with residents, carrying babies and speaking with the elderly.

"I have been here every year to see them, hear the problems and help," he was quoted as saying. He was giving 10 days' worth of groceries to victims, he added.

Prosperous Justice Party member Wirianingsih, an MP-hopeful, had her photo and election details pasted on biscuit packs handed out at relief centres by the health ministry, resulting in harsh criticism from some.

Political communications analyst Effendi Ghazali from the University of Indonesia said politicians often adopt such strategies in the lead-up to national polls, and people are used to them.

But they may not necessarily be effective.

"We have to note that Indonesians easily forget, and these tactics will also depend on who comes after or what happens between the disaster and voting day," said Effendi.


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